Monday, December 24, 2012

Rav Sternbuch: Tradition is not to teach Tanach - why?

Rav Sternbuch (Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 2:457): Question: Should Tanach  be taught in talmud Torah (cheder) before learning gemora? Answer: The accepted practice is not to teach Tanach – even though the halacha is that one should teach Tanach since it is included in the category of holy writings (mikra). The reason for avoiding teaching Tanach is it tends to give a less spiritual understanding – G‑d forbid –  of G‑d’s relationship with us. In fact it is more difficult to learn Tanach then it is to learn a complex issue in the gemora. The Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe Parshas Shemos) stated that when the Torah was translated into Greek then Jews began be aware of the plain meaning of the verses. As a consequence heresy developed and people were not interested in hearing the explanations of our Sages. This in fact is still a concern today. That is the reason that we keep our children from “higayon” – which as Rashi (Berachos 28a) explains means not to present them with Biblical texts unaccompanied with explanation and interpretations. However one who has been educated in Talmud and halacha and has a solid foundation of the pure fear of G-d – he is definitely obligated to learn the entire Bible. Rashi himself notes in his commentary to Torah that a talmid chachom needs to be expert in all 24 books of the Bible. However for young students our ancestors in recent times have not taught them Bible and one should not change this tradition. In fact teaching the Biblical stories carries the real danger that they will view the activities of our forefathers as lowly and coarse behavior because they are missing context and principles for proper understanding of the text. You also asked which commentaries should you use for self-study of Bible? I would recommend intially the commentaries of the Metzudos Dovid, Redak, Abarbanel and the Malbim. However the fact is that for most of Tanach we still don’t have a proper commentary on the elementary level which arouses the heart to fear G‑d – which is the main concern in our days. The heretics that learn Bible their entire purpose is to show that the Biblical personalities also sinned in those days. In this manner they want to minimize the negative connonations of sin. The fact is that the true meaning of Bible is like that of the true meaning of Torah – without the commentaries of our Sages we have little ability to understand them properly. Because of these difficulties in  learning Bible one will receive greater reward for not studying Bible then he would in studying it. He should leave his son to learn in the accepted manner which means Torah, Mishna, Gemora and Rishonim and then afterwards he should study Bible by himself with the proper commentaries and that will be the best for him.

35 comments:

  1. This tradition is not universal. Sephardim always taught Tanach - following the dictate of the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos.

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  2. > The reason for avoiding teaching Tanach is it tends to give a less spiritual understanding – G‑d forbid – of G‑d’s relationship with us.

    WADR to Rav Sternbuch it's the other way around. A good education in Talmud gives a naval b'rshus haTorah all the excuses he needs to steal, assault, adulter and lie. A good education in Tanach takes all those excuses away.

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    1. I don't think it's fair to attack the Talmud without textual evidence to support your claims. Please share at least one talmudic text that apparently allows immoral behaviour. Of course, the more texts you share, the more convincing your argument will be.

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  3. I presume that when he says "Tanach" (maybe that is your translation) he means Nach. I was under the impression that Chumash is generally taught in Chadorim around the world.

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    1. שאלה: אם ללמוד תנ"ך בתלמוד תורה ["חדר"] לפני לימוד הגמרא
      לא נהגו כן אף שמדינא ראוי להקדים ללמוד התנ"ך דהוה בכלל מקרא, והטעם דלימוד התנ"ך כפשוטו עלול לגשם ח"ו הנהגות הקדוש ברוך הוא עמנו, וקשה יותר ללמוד תנ"ך מללמוד סוגיא עמוקה בש"ס, וכבר פירש הח"ס זצ"ל (תורת משה פ' שמות) שבתרגום תורה ליוונית החלו בני ישראל לטעום טעם פשוטו של מקרא, ומאז החלה האפיקורסות להתנוצץ ושוב לא אבו שמוע דברי חז"ל ופירושיהם, כאשר בעו"ה עדיין מרקד בינינו.
      וזו הסיבה שאנו נוהגין למנוע בנינו "מן ההגיון" והיינו תנ"ך כרש"י בברכות (כח א) שפירש לא תרגילום במקרא יותר מדאי, ופי' המפרשים דהיינו בנביאים וכתובים, ומי שכבר מילא כריסו בש"ס ופוסקים ובעיקר ביראת ה' טהורה ודאי חייב הוא ללמוד כל כתבי קודש, וכמו שרש"י מביא בפירושו לתורה שת"ח צריך להיות בקי בכ"ד כתבי קודש, אבל לצעירים לא נהגו אבותינו בזמן האחרון ואין לשנות, ועלול ח"ו להזיק אם ילמדו מעשי אבותינו שבתנ"ך שעלולים ח"ו לגשם הדברים ולא יודעים שעטוף בהרבה סודות הגנוזים בכתבי קודש.
      ומה ששואל איזה פירושים ללמוד בעצמו בתנ"ך, הנה פירושי המצודת דוד הרד"ק ואברבנאל ומלבי"ם קודמים הם, אבל ברוב תנ"ך אין לנו עדיין ביאור כפשוטו המלהיב את הלב ליראת ה' שזהו העיקר בזמננו, והאפיקורסים שלומדים תנ"ך וכל מגמתם לגלות שגם בזמנם חטאו, ורוצים בכך למעט פגם של חטא, ופנימיות התנ"ך כמו פנימיות החומש, שבלי ביאורי חז"ל רחוקים אנו מאד להבין הדברים, ולכן לדעתי יקבל שכר על הפרישה יותר מעל הדרישה, ויניח בניו ללמוד באופן המקובל, חומש משניות וגמרא וראשונים ואח"כ ילמוד בעצמו תנ"ך עם ביאורי קודש ויונעם לו.

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    2. Does that mean that his chadorim don't teach Chumash? I find that hard to believe, and if true, downright bizarre.

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    3. I think you are getting worked up over nothing. Tanach is used as a synonym with Bible. When someone talks about studying the Bible/Tanach I don't understand it to mean Chumash but rather Nach.

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    4. ברכות ה.

      ואמר רבי לוי בר חמא אמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש: מאי דכתיב +שמות כ"ד+ ואתנה לך את לחת האבן והתורה והמצוה אשר כתבתי להורותם, לחות - אלו עשרת הדברות, תורה - זה מקרא, והמצוה - זו משנה, אשר כתבתי - אלו נביאים וכתובים, להורותם - זה תלמוד; מלמד שכולם נתנו למשה מסיני.

      You can see from this gemora that even though the term mikrah also can mean Nach it is clearly understood here as referring only to Chumash. Basically the terms Tanach and Nach are used interchangeably

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    5. That R' Sternbuch is really talking about Nach when speaking about Tanach here seems pretty self-evident from the final sentence of the post:
      "He should leave his son to learn in the accepted manner which means Torah, Mishna, Gemora and Rishonim and then afterwards he should study Bible by himself with the proper commentaries and that will be the best for him."

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    6. As I said in my original post, "I presume that when he says "Tanach" . . . he means Nach." Given his position, a bit more precision in his expression was called for.

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  4. Perhaps several more 'Meforshim' of Tanach are necessary so that it can be learnt properly. Harav Sternbuch answer is similiar to "throw out the baby with the bath water".

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    1. No he is merely saying that a person should delay learning the material until he has been properly educated.

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    2. Perhaps Rav Eidensohn can explain something to me: we are told to have great respect for our sages. We are told that the further back the sage goes the more authority he has because he was closer to Matan Torah. We are told later authorities cannot straight out disagree with earlier authorites.
      Now, there are dozens of authorities that say that in order to learn Torah properly an education in Nach is crucial and many of them say it should precede learning Talmud. Many of these authorities openly criticize how education systems jump straight to Talmud without giving a good foundation in Nach first.
      And along comes Rav Sternbuch and says "Yeah, well just ignore all that"?

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  5. > A good education in Talmud gives a naval b'rshus haTorah all the excuses he needs to steal, assault, adulter and lie. A good education in Tanach takes all those excuses away.

    You are correct. But the problem is that, practically, I can't imagine how it could be possible to provide a "good education" in NACH to young children. I've taught neviim rishonim to high school classes for nearly twenty years, and even there it wasn't always easy communicating the material's subtlety and complexity. And neviim rishonim are among the "lighter" parts of Tanach.
    The two long years I spent trying to grasp even the simple message of Yeshaya left me with a great love for that navi, but also with a healthy respect for the problems of teaching it.

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  6. "The Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe Parshas Shemos) stated that when the Torah was translated into Greek then Jews began be aware of the plain meaning of the verses."

    Any chance you can track down and post the Chasam Sofer's original statement from Toras Moshe that conveys this thought? I find this statement rather astounding and would love to see it in its full context.

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    1. Found something similar here


      (85) ספר תורת משה לחת"ס - דרוש לח' טבת
      ובעוה"ר משהעתיקו התורה יוונית לתלמי המלך ביום ח' טבת, והיה חשך ג' ימים בעולם כי החשיכו מאור עינינו, כי לא לבד שעל ידי שנמשכו אח"כ ללשונם, ונתבטלו כל הכווניות האלו הנזכרים, שא"א בשום אופן להעמיסם בלשון אחר, אך נמשכו גם אחר חכמתם היוונית, והעמיסו בתורה בפשוטי המקרא, העמיסו עלי' חכמת חיצוני' מים המרים המאררים, ועל כן יש באגוז ד' קליפות, העליונה רע ומר, ואיננו ראוי אלא לצביעה, והיא הקליפה חכמת יוונית רע ומר ואינו אלא צבוע, קליפה שניה המשמרת הפרי היא פי' הפשוט שאין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו (כדאיתא שבת דף מ"ג ע"א) והוא משמר תוכו ועל ידו מטלטלים הפרי, והקליפה הדקה הנאכלת עם הפרי, היא כל דרשת חז"ל להוציא מהם עיקרי המצות, דינים חוקים ומשפטים על דרך הפשט, ועיקור המאכל הוא מעשה מרכבה וסודות המצות, והיינו גנת "אגוז" והנה לשון עבר כשהוא מדבר בשפת זה, אינו יודע מכל הנ"ל אלא כמדבר ללועזים בלע"ז, אבל לשון הקודש הוא המדבר ומכוון בדיבורו במסיח לפי תומו, ויש בתוכו ובתוך תוכו כמה עניינים בגמטרי' ונוטריקון ותמורת אותיות, והמדבר הזה באופן זה הוא בעל רוח הקודש והשומע ומבין צריך ג"כ להיות בעל רה"ק, והיינו דקאמר יוסף אחר שאמר להם אותם הענינים למחיה שלחני ולשום לכם שארית בארץ ולהחיות לכם לפליטה גדולה, והם הבינו מדבריו טמון בדברים הללו כמה תמורות וגמטריאות וכמ"ש הבעל הטורים כי פי המדבר אליכם גמטריא עגלה ערופה על כן מדהבינו כך ידעו כי ברוה"ק הוא מדבר, וידעו ג"כ כי כפיו כן לבו כי אין רוח הקודש שורה על שפת חלקות, על כן אמר כי פי המדבר אליכם בלה"ק כנ"ל, מזה תבינו כפי כן לבי ואחר שדבר יוסף עם פרעה גם בלשון עבר, שוב דבר עמו באותו לשון עצמו והראה לו שיכול לדבר דבר והמובן ממנו באופן אחר וזה אי אפשר ללמד לפרעה ולכיוצא בו וק"ל:

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  7. I'd feel more comfortable if I knew that all yeshiva students were given a comprehensive grounding in Nach at some point in their lives. It's not enough to be familiar with some quotations in the Gemara or in the standard prayer services.

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  8. There are Rabbonim that believe that the teaching of NACH fosters an allegiance to Nationhood and furthers feelings of "Love of Tzion". Any thoughts on that aspect?

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    1. It is well known that the Chardal and Mizrachi yeshiva ketanos (high school) and Batei Medresh learn Nach B'iyon. So there might be a Nationhood, 'Zionist" leaning to the study.

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    2. Learning Nach is also a threat to some anti-Zionist groups since there are multiple descriptions of how the final redemption will occur, some of which are consistent with events happening today. It goes against their monolithic "The redemption will only happen the way we say it will" message.

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  9. I guarentee that if this statement of rav shternbuch was said by any rav from yu or similiar place then he would be called an outright apikoros.

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  10. If the Tanach doesn't mean what it says, why doesn't it say what it means?

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    1. Let's not forget that the books of Yechezkiel and Koheles were almost hidden by the Chazal for this very reason - that they were easy to misunderstand. It's a legitimate concern.

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  11. the problem with learning N"Kh today is that people over think things too much...too much intellect gets in the way. Boruch, the SIMPLE message of Yeshaya, and all the prophets, is to correct your deeds, specifically those that fall in the realm of doing justice [mishpatim]. Rabbeinu Yonah [in Shaarei Teshuvah], if I am naming my source correctly, speaks of N"Kh as being the original work of musar.
    The key to learning N"Kh on the simple level is OPEN YOUR HEARTS...as for understanding it in detail, that is another matter, for which one needs to think deeply or use commentaries.
    I find it appalling that rabbis of the last few generations, particularly in the Ashkenazic communities[as pointed out by another comment] find the words of the Sages to not be correct...that Tanakh should be the first order of study, then Mishnah, then Gemara...what kind of faith in the Sages is this? It is the same as the nonsense the comes out of Kollelim..."I am not getting paid to learn; rather, I am getting paid for the time I could have been working". Nonsense.

    People need to start being truthful with themselves.

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    1. You are misreading the situation - apparently intentionally. The issue of the nature of chinuch is not a new one just in the last few generations and doesn't just involve one or two rabbis. The issue goes back at least to the Maharal. you might want to read the words of Rav Hutner I posted here.

      http://daattorah.blogspot.co.il/2012/05/yeshiva-is-artificial-institution-rav_18.html

      It is not chas v'shalom saying that the words of Chazal are incorrect - nobody has said such a thing or even alluded to such a view. The issue of a yeshiva could similarly be interpreted as Chazal rejecting the Torah - but it isn't. Girls education was rejected by Chazal - are you advocating closing all Beis Yaakov schools? Kolllel is contrary to your understanding not nonsense - even though getting paid apparently goes against Shulchan Aruch. Learning Kabbala was strongly criticized except for unique individuals - that changed drastially - especially with the development of Chassidus. You want to get rid of that also?! Perhaps you want your wife to stay in the house all day - because that is what Chazal said? You probably beat your child - because that is what Chazal said? You marry your children off at 12/13 because that is what Chazal said?

      You obviously can make the same incorrect argument dealing with Gittin. How could the Gaonim go against Chazal? How Could Rabbeinu Gershom go against the Torah? Jewish history is full of many issues which are described as ais la'asos or migder milsa etc etc.

      When the Gedolim in a particular time or era conclude that a certain practice - even if established by Chazal - is counterproductive or another approach is more productive - they have the full right to make changes - at least for their generation.

      In short - there is clearly a mechanism within Torah which allows changes - whether it is rabbinic decrees or deviating from what chazal have said.

      You claim that the solution that all the gedolim through recent history have "missed" is to "open your hearts" - amazing!

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    2. firstly, the article in your comment is a very nice summary and explanation. Thank you.

      In all due respect, though, I think that some of your response may have misunderstood of my point, and apparently, my intention.

      I don't disagree with your point that Torah allows for keeping with the needs of the times. I wasn't, for example, saying that Kollel is nonsense. I think that the [seeming] goal of modern day kollel is kind of skewed, and the resulting 'reason' for getting paid in it is skewed. I personally think that kollel should be a training ground for community Rabbanim, Shochatim, Dayanim, Mashgichim, etc part time work in religious/communal areas and the rest of the time learning aimed at a specific goal.
      Likewise, I think that one could dispute whether or not the Tannaim, etc really were against education of women in Torah...we do have record in the Tanakh and its explanations concerning the nevua of the immahot and of, as another example, Devorah as a judge. Likewise, Rashi's daughters, etc.
      Likewise with issues why we don't have marriages at 12-13 or a permittance of multiple wives... plain sense, in the US and many other countries it is simple against the laws of the land, which itself is part of the Torah/halachic process.
      Beating children also...I grew up in a house where today many would consider it 'beating' by modern standards...I don't resent the butt kicks, ear pulls, etc but rather love my parents very much, and I would use the same means, if it is with the same kind of intent they had.
      Such things also go with 'kabbalah' learning...etc.

      But the MAIN point I was trying to make I think that it is absurd for someone to think that it is harder to understand, at least on a SIMPLE level, Tanakh than to understand Mishnah or Gemara. That is not my experience at all.
      Secondarily, the 'open up the heart' comment...if you are reading a book of musar, which is what the prophets are compared to [as said in the original comment]...I personally think that it is the wrong approach to musar and the neviim [at least on the simple level] to focus on intellectual probing of the text, and not on character improvement and attitude change.

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    3. >Boruch, the SIMPLE message of Yeshaya, and all the prophets, is to correct your deeds, specifically those that fall in the realm of doing justice [mishpatim]

      If that were really all that Yeshaya aimed to say, then I suspect he could have done it in far less than 66 perakim. distilling those 66 perakim - filled as they are with complex ideas and pregnant language - into one quick bumper sticker of a slogan isn't wrong, but it's no more helpful than saying that "War and Peace" is "about Russia."

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    4. Boruch, it is beneficial to read the ENTIRE posting, not only portions of it...this includes reading the context something is stated in, the implied/inferred, and also the exceptions to general...I did NOT say that is "all that Yeshaya aimed to say" but that it is the 'simple' message of Yeshaya. Now if you understand that a 'simple' message like 'do teshuva' implies more than the word teshuva, such as doing mitzvot [often in the prophets it is a 'stop acting religious, and start being righteous' message] having right attitudes, correcting middot, etc...then you understand what I am pointing to as Yeshaya's 'simple' message. Likewise, I had said that the approach 'at least on the simple level' dealt with heart...'as for understanding it in detail, that is another matter, for which one needs to think deeply or use commentaries'.

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    5. > I did NOT say that is "all that Yeshaya aimed to say" but that it is the 'simple' message of Yeshaya.
      In a way that's a distinction without a difference. But I won't push the point because I do see where you're coming from and it's not too distant from my thinking.
      However, speaking from experience, a classroom full of young talmidim could be uplifted by a good teacher using carefully selected "heart/mussar-based" exerpts from Yeshaya...for two or three classes at most. But any serious study of the larger material is going to need some kind of intelligent methodology or it's going to fall very flat, very soon.

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    6. It is not actually a distinction without difference, if you get the point.
      If Tanakh is being learned properly, where the learning of it either intellectually or intuitively provides a background/backdrop for musar/character improvement, then it will last as long as one is studying the texts. This is the real study of Torah, in order to do, not just intellectualize. Unfortunately, the same has happened to Gemara, where studying aggadah has been marginalized IN CONNECTION WITH the discussions of the mitzvot/halachic inyanim...and likewise, in the progression of learning the concepts, etc in the Gemara, and progressing to tracing the practical conclusions brought down through the ages by the poskim. In learning, intellect has largely been separated from character and vice versa, contrary to the natural order of progression we experience in our daily lives.

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    7. I can't be sure, but I suspect that you've never actually taught regular shiurim in Tanach or aggadita. I've taught both for many years and doing so quickly taught me that good intentions and mussar ideals alone (as wonderful as they are) just don't cut it in a real "production environment." You need substance.
      The real crux of the matter is: if you aren't drawing your ideas directly from the words of the navi (filtered through Chazal), then you're really just using those words as tools to promote your own personal feelings and hashkafos. That's all very nice, but what right do you have to claim that it's Yeshaya or Yirmiya that you're teaching? It's really "you" or, at best, Mesilas Yesharim that's the curriculum and Yeshaya is just being dragged along for decoration.
      Here's one test you might try: if you've gone through a whole perek Yeshaya (or an aggadita gemara or midrash) and it's only confirmed your pre-existing hashkafos, then you probably haven't actually learned Yeshaya (either that, or you are his equal in nevuah).

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  12. 1. Why do women learn Navi without ever learning Talmud?

    2. Why is the real meaning of Navi more mysterious than Chumash for which we teach mefarshim?

    3. What about Pirke Avos in which Navi precedes Talmud?

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  13. sorry I meant to publish as Ben Dov, not anonymous. my email is picezner@yahoo.com

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  14. R Shimon Krasner of Baltimore has an excellent series of seforim on Neviim Rishonim -Nachalas Shimon He discusses in detail the seemingly difficult sections of the sefer and shows how they are in fact to be understood to be in consonance with halachah The seforim have haskamos from many gedolei Yisroel who actually looked into the seforim ( and not just a haskoma on the mechaber)

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